Saturday, April 7, 2018

Educated

I thought this entire winter was a waste, but no.  We got some shit done.  I practiced the opening trot pattern for Second 1 in my lesson today and the words 'elastic' and 'obedient' were used.  He simply steps into shoulder in now, it's no big thing.  I can now focus on how best to use my time between B and E to make sure that second shoulder in is just as relaxed and nice as the first.  I need to square off that turn to keep him balanced and give him a mini stretch to avoid a build up of tension.  We're now working on sequences of movements instead of figuring out how to do the movement.  Rein back is much harder when I just finished doing a shoulder in and my horse is convinced I want him to go sideways again.  I need to make sure to ride the curve of the serpentine and not square things off because I'm thinking too hard about the simple change.

He was not pleased with the snow

I guess this means we are officially schooling Second level.  I'm currently scheduled to do my debut at Second level at a schooling show on May 12.  April 29 I'll be in my western gear and trying to figure out the whole western dressage thing.  We worked some of those western dressage movements today in my lesson as well and discovered that lengthen lope on a 20m circle is freaking hard.  Why aren't we doing this on a long side????  Theo's brain was blown and then he blew out the shoulder.  It's a good thing I've got a couple weeks to explain this concept to him.  It seemed so easy on paper but Trainer A had us do it once and we realized we had a problem.  Steering and lengthening at the same time just doesn't work right now.

I started giggling during my lesson because it's just so fun to ride an educated horse.  I blew one of my simple changes when I didn't reset the bend in the walk.  We'd been working counter canter on Wednesday and apparently that made an impression.  He took the cue to canter, added it to the balance that was still to the left, and picked up the counter canter.  I went to fix it and Theo just popped a flying change to get us on the right lead.

We still have a whole world of work to do, we're not looking to go out and campaign at Second or anything.  The transitions in canter are still a bit dicey, particularly down from medium.  Once we get big, he's not interested in getting small again.  We can do it in trot, but canter is just too much work.  He'd rather break to the trot or barrel around without shortening up.  Medium trot is good 60% of the time, the other 40% it's tense and braced because I'm pretty sure I'm going to bounce out of the saddle.  That one isn't him, that's all me.  He occasionally throws a temper tantrum and tries to curl and drop behind my leg because this new test is hard and he doesn't like to work hard.  I expect we'll have a world of trouble getting him to work in this new balance when we're somewhere new.

But we're there.  We're schooling the test and polishing the movements we have learned.  We're going to take it out to schooling shows and practice doing these movements in public.  I'm starting to actually believe that I'm going to get my Second level scores.  Maybe not this season, but it will happen.  I will also be getting that qualifying score for my First level freestyle.  Last time I didn't realize we were off track.  We've corrected and reset.  I feel much more confident that when we go out this year, we're going to get that 60%.  I won't move up for sanctioned shows until I've got those solid scores at First, so I'm very motivated.

Riding an educated horse is such a pleasure.  It makes the years of work worth it.  Somehow, Theo became an educated horse and I'm starting to ride him like he's educated.  I'm looking forward to spending this season learning how to present a horse at Second.  The fails should be freaking amazing for the audience.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Love

I try not to anthropomorphize too much.  Yes, it's fun to suggest my horse is plotting, sits in his field and contemplates ways to wreck his blanket, plans his days around impressing the mares in the next field, but I know none of that is true.  Theo thinks about food, water, rolling, and the safety that comes with the herd.  If it's not in front of him, he's not thinking about it.

But once something is in front of him?  It's real and he reacts to it.  He's an emotional creature and has a lot of feelings about stuff.  When I come out of the barn to walk to his field and he whinnies a greeting to me, I know he's greeting a returning herdmate.  He turns and trots up to the gate because he knows my arrival brings lots of grooming and cookies and other things that make him feel good.  His body language with me is animated and interactive.  He's very 'talkative' for a horse.  He wants grooming, he wants to play, he wants a cookie.  Yes, there's a fair bit of nipping attempts, but it's the communication kind.

Contemplating biting me

I went to get him the other day and I saw the way he pranced up to the gate.  His pupils were dilated, his ears pricked.  He was very excited.  I put him in the cross ties and he proceeded to show me where he was most itchy and needed a long curry session.  We went down to the ring and put in a solid schooling session in the western gear (my first ride where I felt comfortable enough in the western gear to put in a serious school).  Someone that only recently met Theo mentioned how different he looks for me.  I laughed and said 'well, yeah, I have spurs'.  And she said no, he just looked so much more engaged.  When I talk, his ears flick.  He doesn't ignore me.  Apparently, he doesn't do that for his other riders.

I think my horse loves me.  It's such a human word and concept that I hate to use it when talking about horses, but it really is the best word for it.  There's plenty of research to show that horses have a chemical reaction in their brains when they see certain people.  He definitely reacts to my presence in a positive way and seeks me out for company.  He treats me the same way he would a close herdmate.

Theo and I have been working together for almost exactly three years.  We're going into our fourth show season together.  We've hit the point where I can feel his breathing change before he spooks, giving me time to head it off.  He can feel my weight shift and knows that I'm about to ask for something.  I know when he's hit his limit and needs to stretch and relax.  He knows when I've hit my limit and that he should really quit giving me a hard time.  I take a deep breath, he echoes me.

Best buds

I was watching him teach someone else how to jump in a group lesson.  Another horse was having a flail and I automatically said 'whoa' in that odd, two tone way I do when lunging a horse.  Theo stopped dead on the other side of the ring, completely confusing his rider.  Seems he'd been watching me the entire time.  I've learned that I can't cluck, say whoa, or say his name when someone else is on him.  He assumes anything I say is for him.

Despite all of my efforts, I think Theo is really a one person horse and I'm his person.  Yes, he is ridden by others and does a good job with them.  He's different with me.  Trainer A still finds his rides challenging as he's just as likely to flip her the bird as he is to cooperate.  It has to be frustrating for her when I ask for the same thing and he'll at least give it a try.  He wants to do it for me.

He's not an easy horse to love.  He bites a lot, has temper tantrums, hates all of his blankets, spooks, strikes, is lazy, gets way 'over excited' about things, and is in general a nuisance.  He thinks he's a stallion and acts studdish enough that my vet thought testing his testosterone levels was totally logical (I didn't do it, too expensive).  But he's also a total sweetheart that loves to cuddle and soaks up any positive reinforcement.  He hates to be wrong.  He loves to be powerful and to be free to act on that.  

Flashback to that time I tried to show him as a hunter and he tried to kill the other horses
 
I deal with the nipping, the threats to kick, the random dives out the left shoulder and bucking.  He deals with my locked up left hip, busy hands, delusions of grandeur in the form of trips to shows, and erratic schedule.  It's wonderful that we stumbled into each others lives.  We're both kind of crabby, opinionated, and distrustful of strangers.  Neither of us are easy to live with (ask my hubby).  But we're complimentary shades of crazy and that's all that matters.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Shopping spree help needed

As I got a promotion (and my annual bonus), I'm buying myself something nice.  Which means Theo is getting something nice.  I'm having some trouble deciding what I want so time to try crowdsourcing. What bridle should I get him?

Theo is still wearing that $90 bridle I got from Dover three years ago for his jumping bridle.  It's fine, but it's a little tight on him and I don't like anything tight around his ears.  I have kept it in rotation so I can have his eggbutt available for his other riders (don't want new hands using his 12mm Verbindend), but I think he's due to get an upgrade.  Probably another PS of Sweden.  I just can't make up my mind which one, the Nirak or the Jump Off or the High Jump.  We'll be doing some cross country and stadium this summer (schooling only) but no hunters, so no worries about it being less than traditional.  I want anatomical fit to keep things away from his cheek bones.

High Jump from PS of Sweden


Jump Off from PS of Sweden

Nirak from PS of Sweden

I keep the noseband loose on my bridles so treats can be delivered, so not sure if the combination noseband on the Nirak will work.    I suspect it would work fine as a regular bridle, I just wouldn't see any distribution of pressure over his nose from the bit.  I like the idea of having only one strap running down his face.  It looks so clean and neat.  But I have no idea how it would work on mi papi's face and with a loose noseband.  The High Jump is very adjustable.  The Jump Off looks very similar to a Micklem, no one would even give it a second look. 

I don't know what to pick!  Or are there other bridles I should look at?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Focus

Theo's been so good.  So dang good.  Trainer A is in love.  She got some true mediums out of him in his last training ride.  This video is us at the end of our last lesson and he felt like a million bucks.  He was taking the contact, light off the leg, fantastic.  Valegro he ain't, but for me, this right here is what we've been working toward for almost three years.


Look at his tail swing.  He was so happy to get in the ring and work.  He wanted to lengthen so badly and we did a lot of passes across the diagonal with a lengthen.  And that's his left lead canter picked up so willingly.  I love the fact that he is so happy to stretch for me now.

And then he bucked his new adult w/t/c rider off the next day.  Theo.  Theo, noooooo.  We need her to give me days off!  And to feed you cookies and give you light days where you can flop around without a frame or real impulsion!  But spring is upon us and he had a brain fart when the lesson started a group canter.  Two bucks, one crow hop, and she was off.  No injuries, thank goodness, and she isn't giving up on him.  He's just too damn good 99% of the time to give him up.

Story of my life. 

But bucking people off and getting studish isn't cool so he's getting his work upped.  This has been rough for me since the hubby is travelling for work this week and I'm handling the house, the dogs, and the chickens as an army of one.  And then running and commuting to work.  Making sure I work Theo 4 times a week is rough right now, but I'm enjoying seeing him so much.  He whickers and trots up to his gate when I call his name.  Who needs sleep when you have adorable whickers?  There's a theory that he missed me and he figured that if he dumped his other rider, I'd visit him more.

On Monday we had a ground session.  We worked on basics like staying out of my space and that cues are not suggestions, they're orders.  I also figured out what I should work on for the foreseeable future:  Focus.  Theo needs to focus even when the world gets hard, such as things moving outside the arena door.  He gave me a buck and scoot on the lunge but with side reins, he couldn't get out of work.  It took only two rounds of scooting for him to realize it wasn't going to get him anywhere.  I corrected him when he was coming in too close and he bronced in response.  I corrected him sharply, then repeated the cue to move out.  He considered throwing a fit, then worked through it with one ear on me.  I gave him a complete release, including a cookie.  That.  That right there, Theo.  Accept my feedback and keep working.

When he spooked at something outside the door, I gave him a verbal command and he responded promptly.  That got him a reward.  The lightbulb went off.  When he'd start to spook, I'd move and his ear and eye would focus on me.  That got him a verbal reward and he started to chew.  We worked very hard on him promptly responding to verbal cues regardless of what else is going on.  He was chewing like crazy, visibly thinking, and the impression was made.  Scoot and bronc is not cool.  Cookies come with putting an ear and an eye on the human.  It's something we do with dogs that are going into competitive obedience.  Eyes up is rewarded.  I can do the same for Theo if he puts an ear on me.

Today I swung on with no lunging and got to work on the same lesson.  He was a little sore after being an idiot on Saturday and giving me some havoc on the lunge on Monday.  But even with two appy ponies working the canter and a beginner on the lunge, he kept an ear on me.  If he started to brace and get above the bit so he could act up, I'd give him a cue and his ears would swing back to me.  Reward, reward, reward.  I think this is what I really need to survive the show season.  He will spook.  He will want to bronc.  He will try to spin for home.  It's what he is.  But if we have it set in stone that a verbal cue overrides his freak out, we'll be okay.  If he stretches for the bit, puts an ear on me, and refocuses, that is a win beyond measure.  He didn't spook at all with me today.  When he tried to get big and look out the door, I said shoulder in and he said 'okay'.  I felt his back relax and let me connect rather than his old response of locking me out.

So now I know what we're working on.  Theo has to focus.  Screw what level test we're working on, this is a bit more critical.  When the world is terrifying, if I tell him to come back and focus, he needs to do it.  I will let him out of the frame, I will let him stretch and look later, I won't keep him in there forever, but when I say focus he needs to do it.  It's a trust exercise.  He has to trust me that if I say focus, that he can ignore whatever is going on. 

I'll admit, he's gotten a lot of cookies over the past two days.  This is a hard lesson for him and I can't be rough about it.  I've purposely put him in a heightened state, then worked him.  Getting rough will get me launched.  Cookies?  Cookies always work.

It's good that I'm back to riding so much.  And I genuinely think Theo missed me.  I don't think his other riders know how to scritch his ears the way I do.  I'm certainly getting the whickers and cuddles.  He's such a funny dude.  He does a good job of scaring people off with his facial expressions and open mouth, but what he really wants is a serious ear scritch and to get his neck curried for an hour.  Per side.  He's shedding and very itchy.  I suspect a plot to get me out to the barn more often.  I guess I should be flattered that he went through so much work to get me out for more visits.

He's so lucky he's cute.  These long days are a killer.  But I got my promotion to lead data scientist so I think a new browband is in order.  Since I have three saddles and really don't need any more.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Health and welfare check

Hey there, intertubes.  We exist still.


And we still can't selfie.  No, Theo, don't eat my phone.

Work has been an exercise is chaos trying to pass for organization.  Boss is gone, no new boss in sight, reporting up to an exec that is way too busy to lead a team of 8.  The running joke on the team is that I'm in charge because I'm the crankiest and seem to know what's going on with everything.  Yay?  But there's a light at the end of the tunnel.  I found out that there is a restructure coming and that there's a promotion in it for me and a really, REALLY cool opportunity.  Like a once in a career opportunity.

But they can't announce or make anything official until the end of March, so I'm holding down the fort at the office, just trying to keep the place from completely igniting.  And then I go see my pony.


He is so good looking when he's spooking at ducks fighting over nesting locations.

We are still soldiering along.  I ride three times a week on average.  Trainer A hops on once a week.  He has a new adult ammy friend to teach that rides him twice a week in lessons, one jumping and one flat.  She thinks he's fancy and safe and very cool.  I agree.  She's learning to jump with confidence which is amazing since she used to break out in a cold sweat when faced with a cross rail.  With mi papi, she grabs mane and smiles as he handles the rest.  He doesn't bolt, rush, or refuse.  Ever.  He's successfully earned the title of school master and has earned the respect that goes with it.  Never, ever will he do rank beginners again.  Lucky teens and some very lucky adults that w/t/c and jump.


He's 14 now, though he's a very young 14.  He didn't start work until he was 6 and no serious work until he was 9.  Can you believe I've owned this beast for two years already?

I'm schooling Second, jumping, and still trying to figure out my western saddle.  We sneak out for trail rides when the conditions are cooperative, but that's not often.  Poor papi is getting ring sour.  It's not bad, but he's definitely bored of the indoor.  On the other hand, he's so eager to move his body that I've been getting some really nice work.  He's finally strong enough in front of his withers that he can lift through there without it being an occasion to get frantic.  I need to school outside where I've got the room to really turn on the afterburners, but no dice.  Another foot of snow in the forecast this week.  But at least we got out a little bit.


I hate mud season.  Theo revels in it.


Good gravy, papi.  Keep this image in mind any time you feel envious of the tail.  This is a daily occurrence that must be maintained.

The current plan is for me to take advantage of the dropping stress levels and step up Theo's work as the temps rise.  April 7 I have a ride review ride with a trainer/judge that I really respect.  It will be a great chance to get off the property and do a run through of that Second 1 test.  And if we totally blow it?  Eh, it's a ride review ride, it's fine.   First schooling show is April 22 and, assuming we don't fall on our face on the 7th, we'll be doing Second 1.  No plans to do rated shows this year outside of some Western Dressage outings.  I want to focus on us being able to go in the ring without theatrics.  I might do the UNH show in June if things are going well since it's close by and he likes those rings.

I've also got my road races scheduled out through June, so need to make sure I leave time for that stuff, too.


The chug thinks I need to run more.  My knees disagree.  But I'm up to 5 miles for my weekly long run and my cardio is better than ever.  It really does make a difference in so many ways.  I spent a couple hours doing spring cleaning for the chickens yesterday and I was muscle tired, but not exhausted or out of breath.  My heart rate stayed in the 120 range for my jumping lesson yesterday (used to be more like 150).


And they give me stuff at races.  Like beer and medals.

So we're doing well.  Theo is fat and sassy.  He's getting his alfalfa back finally.  He had it taken away for a bit after his explosive December and two weeks off in January, but it's time to start turning the dial up.  I'm working hard on my sitting trot and my transitions within the gaits.  Theo's learning that he can sit without getting tense about it.  The days are longer, the snow is melting, and my show schedule is shaping up.

Work is still hell, but pony life goes on.

Monday, January 29, 2018

We live

We do live, but work takes it's toll.  The boss put in his two weeks notice, so we all know how that goes.  A lot more responsibility, followed by training someone on how to manage me with no pay raise for any of it.  Joy.

I got some video of my Sunday ride.  He was a bit tired since he did a double on Saturday and a bit distracted by things falling off the roof but I figured I should get video anyway.  I don't get an empty ring all that often and this is about documentation, not perfection.

So here he is in his less than perfect glory.  It's a long, dull video, but it has all the moves in it that we're working regularly except the laterals since I wasn't sure what parts of the ring were in view.


Big screen helps to actually see.

The only thing I stared at was that back boot that was half undone.  How did I not notice that?!  The down side to riding alone.  But aside from that and the fact he was tired and sucking behind my leg in order to spook (spot those spooks?) it was a good ride.  It's pretty standard for where we're at.  Not looking like a giraffe is pretty natural now.  Transitions are calm and orderly.  Turn on the haunches and reinback are no big deal.  We had some moments of 'I'M A STALLION FEAR ME' where he drops off the contact and refuses to go forward, but that's pretty par for the course.  He's still pretty sure someone out there will fear him if he tries hard enough.

The more I handle him like a stallion, the better we do.  I really should check and make sure he's actually gelded all the way.

I'm very happy with this video.  I'm not leaning forward, he's not dragging his toes or making like a giraffe.  This is progress.  We are calm and highly repeatable.  We canter in both directions.  I love the fact that this is now our reality and I was irritated that he didn't put on his fancy pants for the camera.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.
 
The western dressage judges will love him.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lightness

The one bit of negative feedback I've received in regards to Theo's future as a western dressage horse is that he doesn't look as light in the bridle as the judges will like.  No, they don't want a loop in the rein like a western pleasure pony, but it should still look effortless, like it's the horse's idea.  I usually say that a horse can be ridden with fishing line when they're really light in the hand.  I think they want Theo to be a fishing line type of a horse.

It was suggested that I try him in a western curb, to get that look.  I don't mind a curb, my pelham has served me well when jumping outside and when my shoulder just couldn't handle what mi papi was dishing out.  However, my gut reaction was that it was the wrong move.  I said that I was concerned he would disappear behind the bit again.  I just fixed this dang connection.

But maybe, as a show bit, just to get the look, no harm in trying, just a suggestion . . . .

Ugh.  Time to stick to my guns.  No, no, no.  He does not need a curb.  A curb is going to send him diving down on his shoulders.  Does he need to be lighter in my hand?  Yes, but that's like saying he needs to be lighter on his forehand.  Every dressage horse wants to be lighter in front and lighter in the bridle while still getting an honest connection and power and relaxation and a partridge in a pear tree.  That's going to be my goal until the end of time!  Good gravy, if only she knew where we were six months, a year, two years ago. 

New types of selfie fail, need to get the mirrors cleaned

I figure if I can ride him with my trashed shoulder and feel no pain, he's not that heavy.  Yes, he braces, but it's passing and I'd rather work through it.  My NS bit is doing wonderfully and I see no need to change it when we've found something that works.  He doesn't hide from the contact but also can't lean on it.  I have no interest in having a bit of a 'drape' to my rein.  I need that line of communication to keep him on task when he's on his toes and being studly.  If I can get that in my snaffle?  Then okay, that's spiffy.  But I'm not changing gear to back him off, not when we've finally settled into a nice, consistent place.

But yeah, I would love to have him lighter.  Let's all be honest, I wouldn't have that moment of wavering if I didn't dream of him being lighter.  To have him skip the moment of bracing when I ask for something more challenging.  But who wouldn't want that?  I can get mechanical or I can be patient.  I'll be patient.  All things in their time.  And besides, I've got my hands full with asking him to lift that front end.  I can't manage that and a huge change in the way our (brand freaking new) contact works at the same time.  I'm not that talented.  This whole 'pick up your shoulders' thing is brand new to both of us, it takes a lot of focus.  I don't have the brain power to spare. 

Road hack celebrating our sunny, 47* day

Working at home, I've been focusing on our lightness through transitions.  Mi papi has lovely natural brakes so I forget about the downwards a lot of the time.  Why practice what he's good at?  But Trainer A recently reminded me that downward transition does not equal fall on your face and stop.  We're back to drilling the downward transitions as much as the upward.  Once he's doing the transitions without hitting my hand, bracing, or throwing a fit in either direction, I can add in some laterals.  Same old game, if he has no idea what I'm doing, he'll rock back just so he can be ready for my next random request.  Skipping gaits really gets him sitting back.  Those simple changes will be nice one day.

I know it's working because he gave me a canter half passe in both directions without me having to get dramatic or beg.  I touched  him with my spur and he started to go sideways.  He was actually balanced enough to do it and since we do so much lateral work at the walk and trot, the concept was already installed in his brain.  He got so many cookies and pats.

Observing the snow removal while waiting to finish drying

I'm not giving up on my Second level aspirations.  It occurred to me that I've got Second up on some sort of pedestal, this thing I want but can't do.  It's becoming a problem.  I start to think about it and almost automatically say 'no, we can't do that'.  So I'm just going to do it.  I'm going to do Second 1 at the start of the season at a schooling show.  I know the judge that's usually at that first schooling show, he knows me and my horse, and he's got a great sense of humor.  He stabled across from us at the regional championships and has taught clinics at the barn.  He'll be supportive of our efforts, even if we fall on our faces.  He's a tough judge, he doesn't toss points around, but he isn't cruel.  I think he would be very pleased to judge our first attempt.

We can do the whole test.  No one will be grabbing their pearls or gasping.  Our collection will come and go, I'll be tense because I have to sit through the medium trot, but it'll be fine.  We have to have our debut at some point.  Might as well get it out of the way.  Then we'll have nowhere to go but up.